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Welcome to Beardlandia

Esquire, September 2012

Facial fluff used to be a signifier of anti-style. Then, a few years ago, men in hipster enclaves around the world threw away their razors and allowed their stubble to run riot. Now beards are everywhere. But this is more than just a fashion statement. The return of face fuzz says much about the state of contemporary masculinity.

After decades of shame; after decades when it signalled a shucking off of libido and a decline into sexless middle age; after decades when it seemed like the exclusive choice of socks-and-sandal wearers, the beard has returned to claim a place of honour among men.

Look about you on the streets of Hackney, Williamsburg, Silver Lake or any of the other neighbourhoods where the image-conscious gather and you’ll see them in abundance. The popularity of the beard has been gathering pace since the turn of the decade. But 2012 surely marks the point when it has
leapt from cult choice to mainstream standard. This is the year we’ve seen beards on the Croisette in Cannes (Ewan McGregor, Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler), in catwalk shows (Vivienne Westwood, Casely-Hayford, Gant Rugger, Engineered Garments, Hixsept), in ad campaigns for high street fashion brands (Carhartt Heritage, Urban Outfitters, French Connection, Original Penguin), on the football pitch (David Beckham, Thierry Henry) and in the dugout (Andre Villas-Boas, Pep Guardiola), and on the faces of a multitude of musicians (Will Oldham, Ghostpoet, Bon Iver).

In years to come, when they make movies or write books about this time, the beard will be used as a definitive visual shorthand for the early 21st century, as the moustache is for the Seventies and a pair of mutton chops for Regency England. more

Hip-Hop: So now what?

Esquire January 2012

In the early Eighties, a breathtakingly original new music genre burst out from the ghettos of the Bronx and captured the world’s imagination. Having achieved an unimaginable success, acclaim and influence, hip-hop’s popularity is now in sharp decline, while its globe-trotting superstars seem ever more removed from their audiences. Is their mid-life crisis nothing more than a blip or is it the beginning of the end for the greatest pop-cultural movement since rock ‘n’ roll?

Thirty years ago two singles were released which marked the end of the beginning for hip-hop. The Message, by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force came out in 1982. Although both only charted modestly, they set a new standard in artistic ambition for hip-hop that proved hugely influential. For the nascent music form that rose out of the block parties and housing projects of the Bronx and Queens during the 1970s it was a signal moment. Critics had dismissed earlier releases, like the Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight and Kurtis Blow’s Christmas Rappin’, as novelties.

Now came the breakthrough, the  first significant steps from ghetto subculture to global cultural force. In the decades since then hip-hop has established itself as the most exhilarating music of modern times with its stars a compelling presence in popular culture, commanding ten-times-platinum record sales (Eminem), marquee name movie celebrity (Will Smith) and fallen rock idol status alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain (2 Pac, Notorious BIG). In tandem, hip-hop has become the lingua franca of urban youth across the world, its sounds and styles adopted by legions of followers in virtually every conceivable location on the planet from Johannesburg and Tokyo to Tehran and Jakarta. more